One of the disadvantages of a representative democracy such as ours is that we sometimes have to decide who our representatives actually are. In places like parliament, this is fairly easy; we choose them by secret ballot. In other cases, the people who become the representatives of certain sections of the population do so because they are quick off the mark, unscrupulous or have loud voices. This has happened with certain ethnic minorities, where hundreds of thousands of citizens end up being "represented" by groups of people who have got where they are simply by virtue of being pushy and media savvy.
Education Otherwise is regarded as being virtually synonymous with home education in the UK. Talk about home education and you have to refer to EO. For instance, almost every local authority mentions them when providing information on elective home education. A lot of parents join EO as a matter of course as soon as they make the decision to home educate, even if they then allow their membership to lapse after the first year. I have therefore been watching with fascination as this organisation, once a byword for radicalism and non-conformity, gradually eases itself into a comfortable niche as the establishment's partner in all matters relating to home education.
The signs that this was happening were plain long before Graham Badman started talking about the "Tasmanian Model" of home education practice. Some Trustees of Education Otherwise were very quick to pick up on Badman's apparently chance remarks on this subject and it was obvious that they visualised a role for Education Otherwise similar to that of the Tasmanian Home Educators Advisory Council. Just what the country needs, another quango! Others have noticed these developments and are uneasy about them. As I am not even a member, it could rightly be argued that it is really none of my business, but I have a personal angle here, in that I believe that I am able correctly to identify and empathise with the primary motivation of one of the main players in the affair.
Fiona Nicholson, a leading light of Education Otherwise, is one of those rare parents who have educated their child all the way through from five until sixteen, without once sending the kid to school. The present writer is in the same situation. The quasi bereavement felt as this process draws to a close is a curious sensation, akin I should imagine, to that felt by mothers on their child's first day of school. Some of us in this position sublimate these emotions by starting obscure Blogs and raving on in them about home education! Others, and I suspect that Fiona Nicholson is one of them, cast around for somewhat grander displacement activities to occupy themselves with and enable them to remain involved with home education. Her planned appearance at the Children Missing Education Conference on October 6th has not gone unremarked and I think that we will be hearing a good deal more of La Nicholson's activities as she transforms herself little by little into the official representative of home educating parents in this country. Who knows where this will ultimately lead, a seat in the Lords perhaps?
None of this is meant maliciously, as I am sure Fiona knows. She is, after all, one of the few people on home education lists with a sense of humour and certainly the only one whom I have encountered with a knowledge of the Molesworth books. So good luck, Fiona! I would be very surprised if we do not read a lot more about you in the future, particularly once the new legislation is in place.